Focal Point (Esther)
Tricia Carson’s birthstone was Ruby, so her principal interpersonal relationship trait was her ability to empathize and her overwhelming passion for the things she was interested in. Tricia’s star sign was the constellation Aristophanes, so her proclivity to art and drama made her level-headed in the midst of chaos. Her facial alignment (the width of her eyes calculated with the slope of her nose) landed squarely within the slim “Nearly Perfect” margins, which made her Beauty Quotient a total of 107--the sort of face people would expect for their digital avatars. Tricia Carson’s birthday was August 10, 2132, thus her Birth Number was 908, and Nine Hundreds were notoriously successful in whatever pursuits they attempted. Her Life Motto was “Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” and her five-year plan included marriage, two kids, and a family business that generated enough for the next five generations of her family.
Tricia Carson was also completely fabricated in all twelve points of trait assessment.
Vanessa Decker groaned as the messages for Tricia scrolled and flashed and beckoned on every available surface. Her closet told her what to wear; her mirror told her whether she met the current standards of beauty, and gave recommendations on how to fix it; her floor told her whether she was gaining weight and recommended certain exercises and dietary alterations to maintain the peak physique for her age group and body mass index. What none of these things could tell her--what she wanted to know most of all--was who she really was. She spent so much time trying to be Tricia Carson, trying to give the outside world what it wanted to see--meanwhile, Vanessa remained on the inside, looking through the lens of Tricia and wondering if there was a perspective that belonged to her alone in all the world.
Reality was that anybody could “game” the “Multifaceted Individualized Personality Profiling System” that made the community organizers so proud. Vanessa had been doing it ever since she got too old for her father, Mike, to be doing it for her. It was just a matter of knowing ahead of time the list of possible outcomes for the profile, and deciding which profile Tricia would be. From then on, answering quizzes and making selections according to that profile was as easy as a gut reaction. Once the MIPPS Profiler “figured out” the basic parameters for her perceived personality type, it basically all but told Tricia what to choose and how to behave, anyway. Vanessa focused narrowly on only functioning within those parameters, only doing that which the MIPPS told her to do, so that it would continue to give her outcomes consistent with the carefully-manufactured Tricia Carson personality. She never understood quite why the facade had to stay, but her father had assured her, “If anybody found out who we really were--we would probably be arrested, or killed. At best, we’d be kicked out onto the streets of somewhere up north.”
“But why?” Then-thirteen-year-old Vanessa had asked. “Did we do something wrong?”
Mike’s eyes betrayed his fear, even as he said, “No!” His eyes shifted uncomfortably. “Well, not in a manner of speaking. Not exactly; not California law, anyway,” he finally admitted. He sighed. “Look, all I’m saying is that it probably would not work out for us if we had to… relocate.” He enunciated the word carefully, and with obvious distaste. “You’ll help me, won’t you?” He begged his daughter. “Help us both?”Vanessa had smiled. “Of course I will, Daddy!” Chief among the traits listed in her Personality Profile was the ability to be flexible in the face of small, short-term, situational changes, but the total lack thereof in larger, long-term, lifestyle changes. Staying there in Paristown, California was fine by her. She didn’t see them moving anywhere soon, as long as they kept their heads down and continued to blend in.
The Remnant Resonance (Ruth)
Ophelia grunted and stomped into the bedroom they shared. Ruby went after her.
“What’s wrong?” she asked her friend.
“Nothing.” Ophelia slung the answer like a dare: would Ruby take her response at face value and rejoin Nora with impunity, or would she stick around and pursue Ophelia?
Ruby sat on her bed. She wasn’t going anywhere. “Tell me,” she coaxed.
Ophelia sat with her back toward Ruby. “I said ‘nothing’; get on back to Nora. A death in the family’s not easy to deal with.”
Ruby stood and inched closer to Ophelia’s bed. “You’re family too, Fee. We’re sisters, remember?”
“No we ain’t!” Ophelia’s broad shoulders flinched, and Ruby could hear the sobs in her voice. She sat down on the other side of the bed and put a hand on Ophelia’s back.
“What’s the matter?” she asked.
“I ain’t tellin’ you nothin’!” Ophelia snapped. She put her hands over her face and continued to sob.
Ruby inched closer, putting her arms around Ophelia while the latter sobbed in quick, forceful gasps. “It’s all right, you can tell me,” Ruby said. “It’s been a while since we talked. Is it hard work at the factory?”
Ophelia shrugged her away and wrapped her own arms around her stomach. “I ain’t at the factory no more; they fired me two months after Martin...”
Was that why she was avoiding them? “You’ve been out of work for the last six months? Oh, you poor thing! Why didn’t you tell us?”
“No!” Ophelia stood up and stomped toward the window, still keeping her arms tight across her body. “I didn’t like it there anyway. They never treated me very nice.” She still wouldn’t look at Ruby.
“So why wouldn’t you want to come with us to Mississippi? If you’re not working, you could just stay with us and help me get Nora settled--”
“I ain’t comin’ with you,” Ophelia stated.
Ophelia sniffed and tried to raise her chin and shake off the sadness. “I got me a new job.”
“Ophelia!” Ruby rocketed right off the bed and to her feet. “Why did--How could you--We promised each other we’d never go back there!”
“It’s not like I had a goddam choice!” Ophelia fired back, whirling around and spreading her arms wide. “I got my own family to think about!”
Ruby gazed down at the center of Ophelia’s torso, where the extra thickness could easily be mistaken for folds of fabric. Her eyes widened and her mouth fell open. “Oh, Fee!” Ruby stepped forward and tried to smile. “I had no idea--but how? It’s not Martin’s--”
“No, it ain’t.” Ophelia wrapped her arms around the bump again. “We tried… I tried…” Her face scrunched up again and she began to cry anew. “Guess I’m not the marrying type. Just my luck, only an unmarried man could get me pregnant.”
“Who is it?” Ruby asked, but the query only made Ophelia cry even harder.“I-it-it’s-s… B-b-Big Mo’s! I’m carrying Mo Abner’s baby!”